Fairy Tales

On Public Speaking: A Fairy Tale (of sorts)

Once upon a time, there was a girl who couldn’t speak. Her words caught in her throat, built up in her mouth like a river choked with rocks. She dreaded meeting new people, speaking to shop keepers, even everyday conversations with friends, but most of all she dreaded speaking in public. Anticipating a class presentation, she lost sleep and felt sick for weeks beforehand. Finally sitting down again, after struggling through words that stuck and swelled behind her tongue, she was filled with both relief and mortification. Her most intense joy at finishing school, was that she need NEVER EVER stand up and speak in public again. Of course that was far from the truth, but it did get easier. At University, people were nicer about it, and after that, for the most part  she stayed happily out of the spotlight. Over these quiet years: a time of motherhood, art-making, and increasing freelance work and part time jobs that demanded interaction with other people, the blockages started to fall away and words began to run from her like water. She became increasingly passionate about sharing her love of art and stories, and found herself more and more able to discuss them with confidence and enthusiasm. She almost forgot she had a stutter, though it still emerged from time to time. She began to find it easier to speak to a crowd when she needed too, and one day when she was invited to run some school holiday workshops, she suddenly realised that she wasn’t nervous at all. They went well: she told stories and held the interest of her young crowd, they had fun, the clouds parted, birds sang, and they all lived happily ever after. 

Right. Well. It goes something like that. Anyone who knows me well, knows that my feelings towards public speaking have long sat alongside my opinions on medieval dentistry and skydiving. Not for me. When placed under pressure, if my words don’t freeze, then my brain does. So, no one was more surprised than me, when I found myself speaking in front of a crowd (admittedly, of mostly 8-12 year olds) and enjoying it. I wasn’t trying to rush to the end; my words didn’t tumble and halt. In fact, I can’t wait to do it again. Being in front of a crowd has become incrementally easier over the years, and certainly doesn’t hold that same classroom terror, but this was the first time that it felt easy. And I think I’ve worked out why.
There were more people there than it looks!

There were more people here than it looks!

A few days after the workshops, I stumbled across an article about public speaking by Adam Grant on Twitter, and there was one quote that felt like a lightning bolt. ‘Don’t try to calm down… Instead of saying “I am calm,” people gave more compelling speeches when they said “I am excited.”’ Grant’s reasoning is that a calm person is a boring one, and anyway it’s near impossible to turn down the adrenaline if it’s already coursing through your veins. So, channel that fear into excitement.
I realised that’s exactly what I had been doing in the workshops. I love and get excited by the mix of art, illustration, storytelling and the representation and interpretation of fairy tales. I love thinking about it and, it turns out, I love talking about it. True enthusiasm imparts far more on-stage confidence than beta blockers and five espressos ever will. Excitement for a subject is the best confidence booster there is. Well, that and knowledge. There’s nothing like that warm feeling of knowing what you’re talking about.
I do have a stutter, and probably always will, but it’s no longer debilitating. In fact I can go days without it ever making an obvious appearance. And I now know that if I’m excited and knowledgable about an idea, I can get it across to other people. I can’t say that I won’t make a numpty out of myself next time, but at least I feel it’s something I can, and want, to do again. And that’s a good feeling.
So if you struggle with speaking, ignore the advice to stay calm or imagine the audience naked (what?) or have a stiff drink beforehand (don’t do that). Do your research, and get excited. And have that stiff drink after.

Do you speak in public? Do you enjoy it? Does it terrify the pants of you? What’s your best advice to those who would rather be getting a root canal?
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Lamp Black, Wolf Grey: A review

I was recently sent a review copy (via Netgalley) of Paula Brackston’s upcoming book Lamp Black, Wolf Grey. Hooray! I love review copies, and this was one I could discuss here on The Bone Lantern. In the end, I nearly didn’t write a review, and I’ll go into why at the tail end of the post.

The book follows Lauren, and her move from London to the Wales countryside in an attempt to inspire new artwork (and somehow also inspire pregnancy); and Megan, nursemaid to the sons of a Medieval lord and love interest to a young Merlin. Their timelines are woven together, binding each other tighter and tighter as the book progresses. It is something of a gothic romance, tying in historical and contemporary fiction, and a bit of horror towards the end. It’s not a challenging read, but it rollicks along well enough to keep you reading for an afternoon.

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The blurb promised to reach through “gossamer-fine veil that separates [our] own world from that of myth and fable”, and I was hoping for a more in depth exploration of the relationship between the two. There is so much current fiction that explores myth and fairy tales, and the way they influence and intrude on our ‘real’ world, that you really need to do amazing things to stand out from the crowd. Using the old ‘it’s magic, and that’s explanation enough’ exposition doesn’t really cut it. Saying that, Paula has blurred the lines cleverly in some places. Two characters at first appear to be one and the same, but diverge: one into legend, the other into human fallibility. Myth bleeds into reality, and she explores the idea of true ‘magic’ against flaws in the human mind.

Lauren, our contemporary heroine, is not the strongest of protagonists and her motivations not always clear, but her emotional arc is well played out. She begins the story as the archetypal childless Queen, setting out on a journey to reverse her infertility. Megan is the stronger of the two, attempting to survive a precarious situation in a time when women of her social standing were at the mercy of nearly everyone around them. Her story is one of survival and bravery, while Lauren mostly ponders her emotional wellbeing, though she does get a taste of proper danger towards the end. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of depth to the characters, particularly the secondary ones. They are kind and good; dark and mysterious; or simply mad, bad and dangerous to know. I want to see flaws in the innocent, and light shining through the cracks of the villainous. Maybe she was using archetypal characters as a reflection of the fairy tale narrative? Maybe I’m being kind.

The writing clunks a little here and there, but overall the narrative is well structured. The two storylines are tied together skilfully, with thematic and emotional threads binding them at key points in the story. Look, to be honest, I wanted to love this book, and in the end… I enjoyed it well enough. I kept reading, despite my frustrations with it. Maybe I came to the book with conflicting expectations, but now the question is, do I hit ‘publish’ on a ho hum review? Reviews that worship a book are interesting, ones that gleefully despise it even more so! But several paragraphs to say “well, it was ok…”?

If you’ve made it this far, one thing I can do for you is recommend some brilliant writing on a similar theme:

For those who want clever and powerful historical fiction involving fairy tales, read Kate Forsyth, particularly Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl, and her upcoming The Beast’s Garden. Also read Neil Gaiman, in particular his beautiful novellas (novellettes? They are short stories really, beautifully illustrated) The Sleeper and the Spindle and Hansel and Gretel. And of course the all great and powerful A. S. Byatt, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Salman Rushdie…

Tell me, what else should I read? Do you have a contemporary book that involves myth and fairy tales, and blows you away with its creative power, dexterity and un-put-downable-ness? I want to read it too.

Free Fairy Tale listening: Courses, podcasts and talks.

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If you’re like me, the tasks of hanging out clothes, driving, shopping, etc are made bearable through the act of listening – either music, or audiobooks and podcasts. Podcasts are what I listen to most, but I also use iTunes U a lot for their free audio of lectures and talks. I promise not to turn The Bone Lantern into a listicle blog (three in a row – oops) but I would like to make a list of the fairy tale related listening I do, for my own pleasure, and hopefully yours. Lets start with my favourite;

Podcasts.

Disney Story Origins podcast takes a look at the relationship between the Disney movie version of a fairy tale (so far he has covered Frozen, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan and Aladdin) and the lineage of the story behind it. The podcast episodes can seem pretty few and far between, but that’s because he takes a lot of time to research and produce the content. Topics often stretch over several episodes, and it’s always a fascinating look into how stories change over time. Unlike many comparative theorists in the genre, he doesn’t hold up Disney as the evil destroyer of ‘true and pure’ stories; instead he recognises their place in the evolution of fairy tales. A great listen. The feed link above also has an extensive bibliography list for each podcast. See? Good research. You can follow the podcast on Twitter too: @DSOpodcast.

Amy and Sophie discuss fairy tales at Tabled Fables. They aren’t currently releasing new episodes, but there’s a back catalogue of podcasts still available. Each episode looks at a specific fairy tale, and they chat happily about its origins and and significance, often drawing in interviews with experts and other interesting folk. They still post fairy tales snippets on Tumbler, and you can follow them on Twitter: @tabledfables

Not specifically about fairy tales, or currently releasing new episodes, but my children have loved listening to Kara Shallenberg read old stories and tales since they were little. In fact, I went in to say goodnight to my 11 year daughter last night, and she was listening to Kara read In the Nursery of my Book House via Librivox. Kara has volunteered her time for many years, recording books and stories in the public domain, for both adult and children listeners. As well as her podcast, she has a huge library of free audiobooks on Librivox, a wonderful online service that provides many thousands of hours listening. It’s the audio version of Project Gutenberg, and if you haven’t discovered it yet, go now. I’ll wait.

The wonderful Kara also tweets @kayray

Online Courses and Lectures.

Ever felt the urge to go back and take a class, without actually having to turn up to lectures, endure other fidgeting students, and line up for sad sandwiches at the lunch hall? Online courses are the next big thing in education, and a lot of them are free, provided you don’t want the actual piece of paper at the end. There are some many fascinating lectures on everything you could imagine. I’ve subscribed to courses in physics, psychology, creative writing… you name it, but right now I’ll stick to those relevant to fairy tales.

La Trobe University’s History of Children’s Literature and Genres of Children’s Literature are fabulous. Australian lecturer David Beagley discusses many aspects of Children’s Literature in both of these subjects, and he’s lovely to listen to. The history subject comprises 29 individual lectures, many of them covering aspects of fairy tales, myth and folk tales. These are real lectures – you’ll hear students coughing, shuffling and asking questions – it’s just like being in the lecture hall! But on your couch.

Faerie and Fantasy is a complete undergrad semester long class on Fairy Tale and Fantasy by Professor Corey Olsen at Washington College. Focus on weeks 6-9 for specifically fairy tale related topics. He covers Andrew Lang and The Book of Wonder, and several of the better known tales within. Again, real lectures, given to real fidgeting students. Love it. You can follow Corey Olsen @tolkienprof

Introduction to Pre-Modern Japanese Literature and Culture is a series of 27 lectures focussing on, as is obvious from the title, pre-modern Japanese Literature. This includes many old tales, and the cultural context from which they came.

Invitation to World Literature includes lectures on Gilgamesh, The Thousand and One Nights, The Bhagavad Vita. I haven’t listen to this one yet, but I have it bookmarked. It looks like a great overview of some of histories most referred-to texts.

Discussions and Interviews 

Kate Forsyth has been a monthly guest on ABC Radio National‘s Life Matters program, discussing fairy tales with Natasha Mitchell, as part of their ‘Once upon a time: fairy tales reimagined‘ series. See also episodes on Rapunzel and The Little Mermaid. Kate Forsyth tweets @KateForsyth

Listen to an interview with Phillip Pullman about his recent translation of some of Grimms’ Fairy Tales on NPR.

While you’re at NPR, you can also listen to a short piece about Jack Zipes’ translation of the first edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales.  He talks to Weekend Edition’s Rachael Martin.

Well, I hope that gets you through a few loads of washing and a trip to the supermarket at the very least! Happy Listening.

Early Women Writers of Fairy Tales

I wrote recently about women fairy tale illustrators, so now it’s time for some writers. The writers I have listed here are pre-Golden Age, and mostly wrote in France during the 1600s. I’ll write at a later date on Golden Age and contemporary writers, but there are already plenty of writers I’m brushing over here. French writers appear heavily in the canon, as fairy tales were very much in vogue in 17th Century France.

200px-D'AulnoyMarie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy (1650/1651–4 January 1705), AKA the more easily pronouncable Countess d’Aulnoy, was the first writer to define the term ‘fairy tales’ or rather, ‘contes de fées’. Many of her works were of a style that we define as the classical fairy tale – whimsical and tied up neatly at the end with a marriage or proper morals. They were also very French (oddly enough), and very linked to her aristocratic background, with titles like The Bee and the Orange Tree, Princess Belle-Etoille and The White Doe. She held a salon in Paris, and was linked to a good numbers of rumours and scandals involving adultery, treason and espionage. I like her very much.

220px-Liselotte_von_der_pfalzCharlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force (1654–1724) seems to the just the kind of woman you want at your party. No stranger to scandals (do you see a pattern forming here?), she was a maid of honour at the court of Louis XIV, until he banished her to a convent for writing ‘satirical verses’ and being embroiled in various mischiefs and a rumoured affair. It is here that she wrote many contes de fées, including her most famous story ‘Persinete’, based on an older Neapolitan story, and later rewritten as ‘Rapunzel’ by the Brothers Grimm.

Author Kate Forsyth’s wonderful book Bitter Greens is based on the time Charlotte-Rose spent in the convent. It’s a brilliant read. Kate has also written about Charlotte-Rose on her blog.

2855b2b50fd3152c15ce6e3b08231c46Henriette-Julie de Murat (1670-1716), not pictured. More controversy! What a surprise! In addition to fairy tales, Henriette wrote some scandalous faux memoirs, which had her exiled to the French provincial town of Loches for several years. She also wrote in France in the late 17th Century, and some of the fairy tales attributed to her are Bearskin and Starlight.

Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier de Villandon (1664-1734) was a refreshingly scandal free writer of fairy tales, and niece of the more famous fairy tale writer Charles Perrault, though she published her first tale a year before he did. She was a protégé of Madeleine de Scudéry, and inherited Madeleine’s salon after her death.

Like the three aforementioned writers, she was instrumental in the enormous popularity of fairy tales in 17th Century France.

Jeanne-Marie_Leprince_de_BeaumontJeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711-1780) wrote the best known version of Beauty and the Beast, though the earliest known version was written by fellow French writer Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Marie’s childhood was beset by poverty and the death of her mother at the age of 11, though she claims not to have mourned her. Those looking for more scandal will find it this time in her first husband. He spent her large dowry on his debts, then bought a hotel with the rest. He used the hotel as one would expect of an unwelcome patron, by throwing wild parties and inviting all sorts of disreputable characters. Consequently he contracted a disease typical of such a lifestyle, and Jeanne-Marie was able to obtain an annulment. Not long after, she moved to London, where she wrote her many fairy tales, remarried and had a large family. Her works were very moralistic, more so than many of her scandalous French counterparts, and she also wrote schoolbooks and other moral stories and poems.

Wild-349While not technically a known fairy tale writer, it would be remiss of me not to mention Dortchen Wild. She was a neighbour of the Grimm brothers in Cassel, Germany in the early 19th Century. They met in 1805, when she was 12. Napoleon invaded Cassel in 1806, and this is the same year that the brothers began collecting fairy tales. Dortchen struck up a friendship with the brothers, much to the disapproval of her autocratic father. They met in secret, and Dortchen told the brothers many of the fairy tales included in their collection. Dortchen had several siblings, but all eventually moved away, leaving her to care for her ailing parents. She and Wilhem Grimm had fallen in love, but could not marry, even after her father’s death. The brothers were destitute, and it was only many years later, after the overthrow of Napoleon, and the eventual success of the Grimms’ stories, that they were finally able to marry. Dortchen and the Grimm brothers lived together for the rest of their lives.

Kate Forsyth has also written about the life of Dortchen Wild in The Wild Girl, in fact it is she who introduced me to her. Read more about Kate’s exploration of Dortchen’s life here.

Women Illustrators from the Golden Age of Fairy Tales

Yesterday on Twitter, I shared a few of the Golden Age’s female illustrators and thought I’d go into a bit more depth here. There is a difference between the ‘Golden Age’ of fairy tales, and the one of illustration, but the artists I share here cover both. They were illustrating fairy tales at the time when both fairy tales and illustration was at their peak, around the first two decades of the 20th Century.

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite

12618351_1198685337_e279793bc0560b5207Ida was an Australian Illustrator, and she often included local flora and fauna in her fairy tale illustrations. She worked predominantly with pen & ink, and watercolour. Her use of silhouettes, and the detail within them, is breathtaking. She was born in Melbourne, Australia, and worked and lived there all of her life. You can read more about her life here, and do make sure you view a google image search of her works here.

I had a couple of her books as a child, and loved her work. I still do. The illustration shown is taken from her 1921 book The Enchanted Woods, which she collaborated on with her husband Grenbry, and you can see here how she often imbues her work with a gentle humour – a koala with a top hat and walking stick – of course!

Virginia Frances Sterrett

Old_French_Fairy_Tales_(Virginia_Sterrett,_1920)Poor Virginia only lived a short 31 years, after contracting tuberculosis at 19, around the same time as she received her first commission. Her ability to work declined over the 12 years she had left, and her last collection of works, based around the Arabian nights, took several years. She’s one of my favourite fairy tale illustrators.

Dark but full of light, delicate but with an incredible strength of line, her work always catches me deep in the chest. Go, bask in her genius here.

 Florence Harrison

tumblr_n83tdaOdRN1rtdn1mo5_500There’s very little on Wikipedia on Florence, and her true identity has been disputed, but this website dedicated to her and a collection of her works looks like it may clear things up, and is a fascinating read into one woman’s love for Florence’s work.

Florence was an Art Nouveau and Pre-Raphaelite artist. She illustrated the writings of Christina Rossetti and Alfred Tennyson, as well as poetry and fairy tales. She also wrote poetry and short stories herself.

In the illustration pictured here, you can feel the chill wind and lonely melancholy of Rapunzel in her tower.

Frances MacDonald (MacNair)

Frances was a Scottish artist, whose every claim for fame seems to have been overshadowed or thwarted by others. Not only was she the younger (and lesser known) sister of Margaret MacDonald, who in turn was overshadowed by her husband Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but her husband also destroyed many works after her death. Makes you want to scream doesn’t it? Anyway, she certainly wasn’t a shrinking violet in her lifetime (she was a founding member of the Glasgow School), and she deserves to be better known. View more of her works here.

Frances_Macdonald,_Sleeping_Princess

Anne Anderson

anne_anderson_little_mermaid_foamAnne Anderson was a Scottish Illustrator, and by the sound of it, had a nice, normal prolific life. No TB (though she did only live to 56 now that I look again), no obvious overshadowing by others, and no disappearing into obscurity. She married fellow illustration Alan Wright, and they collaborated on many projects, on which she is believed to have been the driving force.

Her work, mostly in watercolour, is much like her life appears to have been (though of course who are we to assume?): beautifully executed, probably conventional for her time, but really quite lovely.

That was by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. Do you have a favourite illustrator that I missed?

Review: Marina Warner’s ‘Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale’

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Imagine the history of fairy tale as a map, like the Carte du Tendre, the ‘Map of Tenderness’, drawn by Parisian romancers to chart the peaks and sloughs of the heart’s affections… (Loc 50)

So begins the prologue to Marina Warner‘s new book on fairy tales Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale. At 226 pages it is a much slimmer follow up to her 1996 book From the Beast to the Blonde, but no less enlightening or engaging. Warner weaves her dialogue beautifully, sometimes slipping into a metaphorical narrative much like fairy tales themselves. This could come across as strained or twee in clumsier hands, but Warner is a confident and self-possessed writer. The great history of storytelling comes to flourishing life under her deft touch. In chapter three, Voices on the Page, while discussing the essence of fairy tales, she writes:

Think of it as a plant genus, like roses or fungi or grasses, which seed and root and flower here and there, changing species and colour and size and shape where they spring. Or think of it as a tune, which can migrate from a voice to a symphony to a penny whistle, for a fairy tale does not exist in a fixed form or medium. The stories’ interest isn’t exhausted by repetition, reformulation, or retelling, but their pleasure gains from the endless permutations performed on the original. (Loc 606)

I have a confession to make. Often, while reading academic writing, my mind tends to wander; my eyes skip over the words. I can get to the end of a piece of writing and hardly be able to tell you anything I just read. I may make something up. Not so in this case. Warner’s language is clear and poetic. She leads you along an open forest path with sure footing and a bright torch. We see fairy tales as they are; not a dusty collection of old and irrelevant stories, but stories that travel, adapt and take on new meanings. She reminds us, on every page, why fairy tales are still relevant and important today. They have never existed in solitude, and Warner leads you through their connections to psychology, feminism, fantasy and the supernatural. She evaluates their history, their meaning, and the way they have woven (and been woven into) our very lives.

The chapters in Once Upon a Time are divided into themes. They range from the factual ‘Voices on the Page’ which introduces many of the tellers, writers and translators of fairy tales, to the barely constrained rally cry of ‘In the Dock: Don’t Bet on the Prince” which details the post-war feminist subversion of the fairy tale. Interestingly, the title references Jack Zipes’ book of feminist fairy tales Don’t Bet on the Prince. Here she celebrates, among others, the feminist works of theoreticist Ruth Bottigheimer, poet Anne Sexton and all-round-fairy-tale-feminist-superstar Angela Carter. One thing that makes this work so engaging is Warner’s refusal to stay neutral. In her dissent from fusty academic writing, she gives us sentences like “Aroused by Freud’s question, ‘What do women want?’, which lies at the centre of conjectures made by (mostly male) analysts, [feminists] seized hold of fairy tales and shook them till the stories choked, spat out the poison, and sat up ready for a different day… Fairy Tales were denounced as a blunt tool of patriarchy, the bourgeoisie, cosmetic surgeons, the fashion industry, physchoanalysts bent on curbing girls’ energies and desires.” (Loc 1522)  I heard a whoop in there, didn’t you?

The ideas in this book run deep. If you’re after light bedtime reading, this is no Disney-esque romp. Like tales of old, Warner’s book does far more that skim from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘happily ever after’. There is darkness with the light, and deliberation and passion in her words. While Warner’s writing isn’t hard to read, you’ll still need to put the book down every now and then, to take a walk or stare out the window, to allow the information to sink in. The path she leads us on is clear, but the forest is dense. Your head will fill quickly with new ideas and information. But don’t see this as obstacle. You will finish this book wiser about, and more in awe of, fairy tales, human nature and the many threads that tie our world together.

Thank you to NetGalley and Oxford University Press for the advance reading copy of this book.